History of the New Zealand Plant Protection Society

The formation of what is now the New Zealand Plant Protection Society occurred in the years soon following the Second World War. The post-war era saw the emergence of new synthetic chemicals, of which several were found to have utility in agricultural weed and pest management. The plant hormone weed killers (phenoxies including MCPA, 2,4-D, and 2,4,5-T) and organochlorine insecticides (most notably, DDT) were spectacular advances that revolutionised agricultural pest management, reduced labour, and resulted in tremendous productivity gains.  

A leading figure in the early development of the New Zealand agrichemical industry was Dan Watkins. In early 1948, Dan Watkins hosted a sabbatical visit by Dr Alfred Pridham, a prominent weed scientist from Cornell University, with expert knowledge on the newly available phenoxy herbicides. It is said that the genesis the Society, and its annual conference, took place at a tearoom in New Plymouth, where Dan Watkins and other representatives of the burgeoning agrichemical industry met with Dr Pridham. After this meeting, it was suggested by Dan Watkins that a national conference be held, where government and industry representatives could come together to discuss matters related to weed management. Thus, the first ‘National Weeds Conference’ was held at Lincoln Agricultural College, in August 1948. The success of the first conference let to it being an annual event. 

By the 10th conference the formation of a professional society was evident, with rules of the Society published in the proceedings, and the primary objective of the Society formally stated to ‘pool and exchange information’ relevant to plant protection. While herbicides were the dominant focus of the Society for the first decade, papers on insecticides were a regular feature by the early 1960s. In 1964, the name of the Society changed to the ‘Weed and Pest Control Society’, to better represent the broader interests of the membership. In 1992, the present name of the Society was adopted, the ‘New Zealand Plant Protection Society’. The change to Plant Protection, encompassed different scientific disciplines, primarily weed science, entomology, and plant pathology. An interdisciplinary approach to plant protection made sense. A common goal of these different disciplines was recognised, to protect agricultural crops from losses, and achieve productivity that contributed to the prosperity of the nation and global food security. The name change was not merely expansionary, but also reflected an important shift in the thinking about plant protection research and extension activities. It was clear that agrichemicals were not the panacea first believed, with numerous cases of resistance to pesticides, and frequently reported harmful environmental side effects of agrichemicals. As the Society matured, there was increasing emphasis on integrated approaches to pest management, that included the judicious use of agrichemicals, incorporated with biological and cultural management techniques. Achieving productivity goals, while ensuring sustainability of agricultural systems and protection of the natural environment, have long been a focus of the Society that continues to the present time.

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